Human personality traits differ across geographical regions1,2,3,4,5. However, it remains unclear what generates these geographical personality differences. Because humans constantly experience and react to ambient temperature, we propose that temperature is a crucial environmental factor that is associated with individuals’ habitual behavioural patterns and, therefore, with fundamental dimensions of personality. To test the relationship between ambient temperature and personality, we conducted two large-scale studies in two geographically large yet culturally distinct countries: China and the United States. Using data from 59 Chinese cities (N = 5,587), multilevel analyses and machine learning analyses revealed that compared with individuals who grew up in regions with less clement temperatures, individuals who grew up in regions with more clement temperatures (that is, closer to 22 °C) scored higher on personality factors related to socialization and stability (agreeableness, conscientiousness, and emotional stability) and personal growth and plasticity (extraversion and openness to experience). These relationships between temperature clemency and personality factors were replicated in a larger dataset of 12,499 ZIP-code level locations (the lowest geographical level feasible) in the United States (N = 1,660,638). Taken together, our findings provide a perspective on how and why personalities vary across geographical regions beyond past theories (subsistence style theory, selective migration theory and pathogen prevalence theory). As climate change continues across the world, we may also observe concomitant changes in human personality.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $8.25 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Allik, J. & McCrae, R. R. Toward a geography of personality traits: patterns of profiles across 36 cultures. J. Cross Cult. Psychol. 35, 13–28 (2004).
McCrae, R. R. & Terracciano, A. Personality profiles of cultures: aggregate personality traits. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 89, 407–425 (2005).
Rentfrow, P. J., Gosling, S. D. & Potter, J. A theory of the emergence, persistence, and expression of geographic variation in psychological characteristics. Perspect. Psychol. Sci. 3, 339–369 (2008).
Rentfrow, P. J. & Jokela, M. in The Praeger Handbook of Personality Across Cultures Vol. 1 (ed. Church, A. T.) 225–249 (Praeger, Santa Barbara, CA, 2017).
Schmitt, D. P., Allik, J., McCrae, R. R. & Benet-Martínez, V. The geographic distribution of Big Five personality traits patterns and profiles of human self-description across 56 nations. J. Cross Cult. Psychol. 38, 173–212 (2007).
Obschonka, M., Schmitt-Rodermund, E., Silbereisen, R. K., Gosling, S. D. & Potter, J. The regional distribution and correlates of an entrepreneurship-prone personality profile in the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom: a socioecological perspective. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 105, 104–122 (2013).
Talhelm, T. et al. Large-scale psychological differences within China explained by rice versus wheat agriculture. Science 344, 603–608 (2014).
Guilford, J. P. Personality 383–384 (McGraw-Hill, New York, NY, 1959).
Goldberg, L. R. The development of markers for the Big-Five factor structure. Psychol. Assess. 4, 26–42 (1992).
Digman, J. M. Higher-order factors of the Big Five. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 73, 1246–1256 (1997).
DeYoung, C. G. Higher-order factors of the Big Five in a multi-informant sample. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 91, 1138–1151 (2006).
Van de Vliert, E. in The Praeger Handbook of Personality Across Cultures Vol. 3 (ed. Church, A. T.) 117–148 (Praeger, Santa Barbara, CA, 2017).
Van de Vliert, E., Yang, H., Wang, Y. & Ren, X. Climato-economic imprints on Chinese collectivism. J. Cross Cult. Psychol. 44, 589–605 (2013).
Van de Vliert, E. Climato-economic habitats support patterns of human needs, stresses, and freedoms. Behav. Brain Sci. 36, 465–521 (2013).
Van de Vliert, E. in Advances in Culture and Psychology Vol. 3 (eds Gelfand, M. J., Chiu, C. & Hong, Y.) 227–282 (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, 2013).
Cohen, L. E. & Felson, M. Social change and crime rate trends: a routine activity approach. Am. Sociol. Rev. 44, 588–608 (1979).
IJzerman, H. et al. A theory of social thermoregulation in human primates. Front. Psychol. 6, 464 (2015).
Ainsworth, M. D. S. & Bell, S. M. Attachment, exploration, and separation: illustrated by the behavior of one-year-olds in a strange situation. Child Dev. 41, 49–67 (1970).
Caspi, A. & Roberts, B. W. Personality development across the life course: the argument for change and continuity. Psychol. Inq. 2, 49–66 (2001).
Triandis, H. C. & Suh, E. M. Cultural influences on personality. Annu. Rev. Psychol. 53, 133–160 (2002).
Chiaburu, D. S., Oh, I.-S., Berry, C. M., Li, N. & Gardner, R. G. The five-factor model of personality traits and organizational citizenship behaviors: a meta-analysis. J. Appl. Psychol. 96, 1140–1166 (2011).
Cunningham, M. R. Weather, mood, and helping behavior: quasi experiments with the sunshine samaritan. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 37, 1947–1956 (1979).
Fetterman, A. K., Wilkowski, B. M. & Robinson, M. D. On feeling warm and being warm: daily perceptions of physical warmth fluctuate with interpersonal warmth. Soc. Psychol. Person. Sci. http://doi.org/10.1177%2F1948550617712032 (2017).
Tucker, P. & Gilliland, J. The effect of season and weather on physical activity: a systematic review. Public Health 121, 909–922 (2007).
McCrae, R. R., Terracciano, A., Realo, A. & Allik, J. Climatic warmth and national wealth: some culture‐level determinants of national character stereotypes. Eur. J. Pers. 21, 953–976 (2007).
Hofstede, G. & McCrae, R. R. Personality and culture revisited: linking traits and dimensions of culture. Cross Cul. Res. 38, 52–88 (2004).
Gelfand, M. J., Harrington, J. & Fernandez, J. in The Praeger Handbook of Personality Across Cultures Vol. 3 (ed. Church, A. T.) 207–236 (Praeger, Santa Barbara, CA, 2017).
Uskul, A. K., Kitayama, S. & Nisbett, R. E. Ecocultural basis of cognition: farmers and fishermen are more holistic than herders. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 105, 8552–8556 (2008).
Murray, D. R. & Schaller, M. in The Praeger Handbook of Personality Across Cultures Vol. 3 (ed. Church, A. T.) 87–116 (Praeger, Santa Barbara, CA, 2017).
Elliot, S. L., Blanford, S. & Thomas, M. B. Host–pathogen interactions in a varying environment: temperature, behavioural fever and fitness. P. R. Soc. B Biol. Sci. 269, 1599–1607 (2002).
Roberts, B. W., Walton, K. E. & Viechtbauer, W. Patterns of mean-level change in personality traits across the life course: a meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Psychol. Bull. 132, 1–25 (2006).
IJzerman, H. & Hogerzeil, L. in The Oxford Handbook of Human Essence (eds van Zomeren, M. & Dovidio, J. F.) 83–94 (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, 2017).
IJzerman, H. et al. The human penguin project: social integration protects against cold climates. Preprint at https://doi.org/10.17605/OSF.IO/6B7NE (2017).
Van de Vliert, E. Climatoeconomic roots of survival versus self-expression cultures. J. Cross Cult. Psychol. 38, 156–172 (2007).
Fischer, R. & Van de Vliert, E. Does climate undermine well-being? A 58-nation study. Pers. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 37, 1031–1041 (2011).
Soto, C. J., John, O. P., Gosling, S. D. & Potter, J. The developmental psychometrics of big five self-reports: acquiescence, factor structure, coherence, and differentiation from ages 10 to 20. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 94, 718–737 (2008).
Steinmetz, J. & Posten, A.-C. Physical temperature affects response behavior. J. Exp. Soc. Psychol. 70, 294–300 (2017).
This research is partly supported by the National Science Foundation of China (NSFC) grant no. 91224008 and no. 91324201 and the Foundation of Beijing Key Laboratory of Behavior and Mental Health grant no. Z151100001615053 to L.W. We are grateful to V. Benet-Martínez, M. Morris, and E. Page-Gould for their valuable insights, and C. Chen, J. Chen, X. Di, Y. Huang, J. Jiang, M. Jiang, D. Li, M. Li, C. Liu, Y. Ma, J. Ma, L. Peng, L. Qiao, L. Ren, P. Wang, H. Yu, J. Zhang, M. Zhou and other graduate students working with L.W. for their help with data collection. We thank the China Meteorological Administration for providing the climate data and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention for providing the disease data. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
A correction to this article is available online at https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-017-0275-2.
About this article
Cite this article
Wei, W., Lu, J.G., Galinsky, A.D. et al. Regional ambient temperature is associated with human personality. Nat Hum Behav 1, 890–895 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-017-0240-0
The association between walkability and personality: Evidence from a large socioecological study in Japan
Journal of Environmental Psychology (2020)
Frontiers in Psychology (2020)
Frontiers in Psychiatry (2020)
Why East Asians but not South Asians are underrepresented in leadership positions in the United States
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2020)
Journal of Economic Studies (2020)